When hubby brings home a child-sized doll that resembles a stunted psych-ward drag queen, it really shouldn't go on the shelf in the nursery. Just sayin'.
But this is why we go to horror films — to manage our nerves tracking the doomed — and "Annabelle" works enough devil figurine juju to make for a modestly hair-raising prequel to the more satisfying scares of its predecessor, "The Conjuring."
Centered on the origins of that film's freaky glass-case object, Gary Dauberman's script serves up an expecting couple (Annabelle Wallis and Ward Horton) who endure a terrifying night at the hands of invading Manson-like satanic occultists (the movie's best, most chilling sequence). They move to an apartment building in Pasadena, where we learn not to trust long takes of hallways and dark corners, the basement elevator or any room that Annabelle's in.
Director John R. Leonetti, the talented cinematographer on "The Conjuring," loves the spooky stuff but isn't great with actors. Then again, nobody here — not even Alfre Woodard as the friendly bookstore owner — has anything as meaty as what Lili Taylor and Vera Farmiga got to play with.
"Annabelle" is rather a guided tour of the era's possession-saga aesthetics: old-school wide shots, loud noises, showy shocks and quieter creeps. It lacks the exhilarating pull of "The Conjuring," but as a side dish of demon-doll supernatural, it suffices.
MPAA rating: R for intense sequences of disturbing violence and terror.
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.
Playing in wide release.